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No rest for weary: Trees clobber Mitchell Creek home

Carrie Click
Staff Writer

If Marcia Kesselring had a white flag, she’d be waving it and holding it high.

The Mitchell Creek resident has battled with Mother Nature all summer. First, the Coal Seam Fire on June 8 threatened her house, forcing her to evacuate along with her three dogs and six cats. The fire destroyed 29 of her neighbors’ homes.

“The fire was right here,” she said of the charred vegetation and trees in her yard. A melted bird feeder still hangs in the yard. “It hit a lot of our aspens and box elders.”

Although Kesselring’s home was spared, a series of hard-hitting thunderstorms and subsequent mudflows pummeled the area later in the summer.

On Saturday evening, during a violent rain and windstorm, Kesselring’s sunken living room flooded, leaving a five-inch-deep mud puddle in the middle of the house. But that’s not all. During the same storm, two trees crashed onto Kesselring’s deck, obliterating the deck and taking out a set of power lines next to the house.

“At least it didn’t take out our phone line,” Kesselring laughed wearily. “We did manage to get our reverse-911 call to evacuate.”

Like Kesselring’s, some 200 homes and businesses are considered to be in the potential path of mudflows. A reverse-911 call plan has been set up in the area to quickly evacuate residents on short notice.

At this point, Kesselring is at her wits’ end.

“Someone said it feels like we’re being held hostage,” she said. “And that’s right. That’s exactly how we feel.”

Kesselring said she’d get out if she could – but she feels trapped.

“I’d sell the damn place if anyone would be stupid enough to buy it,” she laughed. “But meanwhile, I have a mortgage payment coming up.”

The Mitchell Creek homeowner is at a loss.

“We were sitting pretty in early June. But now, it’s already a buyer’s market, and now this,” she said of her newly acquired tree-laden deck. “This isn’t exactly a great selling point.”

Concerned family members are constantly hearing of the latest fire or flood in Colorado and calling Kesselring.

“I just got off the phone with my mother, who lives in West Virginia,” she said. “She told me to get out. But how? Does she want to buy my house? I have other friends that say we should rent a trailer until all this passes. But how? I don’t have an extra $1,000 a month to live somewhere else while I pay the mortgage here. I’m open to suggestions.”

Garfield County Sheriff Tom Dalessandri has a lot of empathy for Mitchell Creek residents like Kesselring.

“Clearly, these folks have been through an awful lot and that was an unusual situation on Saturday,” he said of Kesselring’s misfortune. “There were sheets of rain, but the high winds were not directly related to the mudflow situation at Mitchell Creek.”

The only advice Dalessandri can give is advice he admittedly is having trouble following himself.

“The rule of thumb with the Forest Service on mitigating hazards (due to fire and flood) is to clear vegetation away from around buildings,” he said. “But the very reason people pick places to live like Mitchell Creek is because of the vegetation and big, mature trees. I’m like everyone else in that I find it hard to clear that material away.”

If there’s anything fortunate about Kesselring’s situation, it’s that she does have flood insurance.

“We got it right after the fire,” she said.

She didn’t get it after the Storm King Fire, however. She’s been living at her house in Mitchell Creek for the past 15 years, and was evacuated in July 1994 during the Storm King Fire, which killed 14 firefighters.

“Storm King was very close,” Kesselring said. “There was ash everywhere.”

Now, with a $1,000 deductible on her insurance policy, she’s wondering when and what she should rebuild or replace.

“We just don’t know where to go with this,” she said. “There just doesn’t seem to be any end in sight.”

When Kesselring is evacuated, she often goes to her sister’s house in Silt. During the Coal Seam Fire, she stayed at the Red Cross shelter. She never leaves her animals at home.

“We load up the whole menagerie whenever we’re away or go to work,” she said. “We’re not leaving them here. They’re family.”

Kesselring misses the place Mitchell Creek once was.

“It used to be such a beautiful, peaceful place,” she said. “It isn’t anymore. This sucks. This completely sucks. And you can print that.”


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